Unfortunately, most people now think of Facebook and Twitter in terms of numbers games of who has the most followers and friends. I'm guilty. I have around 18,000 followers on Twitter. I "push" out my expert links to build a brand. Is it helpful? Maybe a little -- but I have become a one-way news source with my Web design, SEO, and marketing links. I have very few one-on-one conversations because the noise of everyone else doing the same thing makes it difficult to "talk." I am yelling with links and everyone is screaming over me with their own links. I figure I have only about 3,000 "real" followers on Twitter who I might be helping. But if we want to have in-depth discussions, they happen on email.
Social networks at their best allow you to engage with like minds and have real online conversations. But it's nearly impossible to do that on sites that have turned into raging rivers of links, spam, and sales pitches. (I'll be very interested to see if Google's rumored social network Google Me prevents this kind of free-for-all.)
Here's why the two most popular sites aren't all that helpful for engaging with professional contacts and customers:
Twitter: It's like we all run out and meet on a football field for the first time and say hello to the closest people standing next to us but we can't move around or hear anyone else because it's so chaotic. No real discussions happening here. It can be a great way to pass along a 140-character press release or short soundbites of expertise, but the original source gets lost rather quickly -- usually before the 5-yard line.
Facebook: It's great that we're all fans of Starbucks coffee but are we having a sustainable business conversation on Starbucks' fan page? Probably not. Facebook Groups are a little better but many of them veer off topic and quickly become distractions on your Wall. And the recently launched Community pages are just plain confusing. None of the above are all that useful for finding new prospects and new ideas.
If all of this social network noise is drowning out the conversations you want to be having, here are some suggestions :
- LinkedIn -- Join, start, and participate in groups. LinkedIn is the best business-to-business network in the world -- as long as we don't confuse it with Twitter and Facebook, or use it to bait recruiters with well-worded profiles.
- Yahoo Groups -- There are well over 10 million Yahoo Groups on every possible subject under the sun. Just do a search and find one that matches your business. Or start your own.
- Google Groups -- Millions and millions of groups are available at Google. The best part about them is the ability to share documents, video, and sites, and collaborate by email with individuals or the entire group.
- Ning -- Ning is the leading online platform for the world's organizers, activists, and influencers to create their own social networks. Find a group or start your own.
- Join forums -- Search the Web for related forums and join trade association forums that matter to your business. You can also search at Big Boards, too.
- Create your own stand-alone group or community - Try Big Tent or KickApps. Create a group or community and spread it on Twitter and Facebook before no one else can hear you.
- Meetup -- Take it offline. Meetup is the world's largest network of local groups with over 2,000 groups and 7 million members. Meetup is great for local businesses.